Cleon Peterson's new exhibition at Arts District gallery Over the Influence, “Blood & Soil,” is that rare gem of political discourse — violently honest, fearless in its message, powerful in its emotion, sharp in its wit and, above all, beautiful to behold.
Peterson's new series of small, large and very large acrylic-on-canvas paintings is augmented by a pair of new bronze sculptures and a fiberglass sculpture that in its scale and content is really more of a monument. In fact, the language of public, civic and governmental monuments, statues and landmarks is a recurring motif throughout this aesthetically luminous, polemically dark manifesto of an exhibition.
Peterson's unique style of death-metal deco often depicts frank, painful scenes of violence, debasement, exploitation, crime, punishment, corruption, addiction, police brutality and sexual oppression. His high-octane palette of red, white and black includes references to a kind of Soviet-ish propaganda as well as being innovative in its graphic contours and the vectors of its complex compositional tableaux.
He's been developing this voice for many years, expanding his lexicon of materials to include bronze, cast resins and neon. So he was ready, in a way, when a new wave of corruption, racism, misogyny, police misconduct and governmental corruption hit the headlines. One painting depicts apparent lynchings on the White House lawn; another imagines the so-called pee-tape scenario; and even Vladimir Putin and Robert Mueller make appearances.
That the currently dismal state of national and global affairs has produced such gorgeous works of art is bittersweet, to say the least. But here we are, the paintings seem to say, and we cannot risk becoming numb, or pretend things are otherwise — so we may as well make art about it and try to stay human.
Over the Influence, 833 E. Third St., downtown; (310) 921-5933, overtheinfluencecom. Tue.-Sun., 11 a.m.-6 p.m., through Aug. 5; free.